When Deane Lester talks racing, people listen. Deane’s rapid rise to the top of his profession has earned him respect as a key media form analyst.
His peers are the first to say he’s shrewd. In many cases, his predictive racing skills can influence race markets to the point where a runner can shorten up two points or more for no other reason than it was selected by Deane Lester.
Growing up on stud farms with a mother who holds a trainer’s license, Deane’s career path was mapped out at a very early age. He first entered the media in 1989, working for the Sporting Globe as the trackman at Cranbourne.
In 1990 he commenced doing form comments for Winning Post and in 1998 turned to Radio 927.
In a game that boasts a high mortality rate, at times Deane seems almost bullet proof, no more than when he achieved the tipster’s dream of selecting every winner on a seven race card at Werribee on December 20 last year.
I posed a number of questions for Deane on punting and racing.
Punters are confronted with a multitude of variables for form consideration. How should form students coordinate these factors, and what do you consider are the factors of major importance?
DL: I feel that barrier draws, race tempo, rider changes, class factors and track conditions are the integral factors to assess in every race. Barrier draws and race tempo are often reliant on each other and the way a race sets up is determined by barrier draws. I look for significant riding changes, i.e. apprentice to senior riders, out of form riders to in-form riders or significantly more aggressive riders taking the reins.
Also, look for horses that are shifting sharply in class, either up or down. Finally, all these variables will be useless if there is a significant bias on a track or your selection is not proven in certain conditions. It is essential to make sure that you know what condition the track is in that you are planning to bet on.
One aspect of racing that causes punters a great deal of angst is the issue of track bias. Some analysts state it is best to concentrate only on later races on a card to see how the track is going to play. What are your thoughts on track bias, and how should the punter manage this concern?
DL: Track bias is a definite issue and has been enhanced by artificial watering of tracks during the current drought. I am wary to bet on early races, they are often the lower class horses anyway and I like to determine how the track is playing. In assessing a track, look for consistent trends of how well credentialed horses are beaten.
They can’t all be just having an off day and it may be that they are racing in the worst part of the ground. Be careful and conservative when assessing a track, try and use relatively reliable horses in their right class that don’t appear to have any other excuses on the day.
Race sectionals are freely available, but many punters are at a loss on how to use them as an analytical tool. What value do you assign to sectionals and how should punters use them?
DL: Sectional times are a tricky tool to use as a definitive guide. I use them regularly; often to see how hard a tearaway leader actually went in a race, or how strongly a run-on horse went to the line. I think they are a useful tool, but they are not the be-all and end-all of punting tools.
Many serious punters are loath to wager on wet tracks. Is it harder for horses to hold form on affected going? Should the average punter put the cue back in the rack on wet days?
DL: I don’t mind betting on wet tracks, when it’s their season. If you are faced with a wet track in summer, the track may have a firm base and not give the feel of a genuine wet track. The horses racing in summer are in work because they probably prefer dry tracks so they are out of season.
I am happy to bet in winter on wet tracks, but very rarely back a first-up horse on a wet track, I like them to have fitness on their side. Finally, I never bet on tracks that are deteriorating. When it rains during a meeting, I put the cue in the rack . . . you don’t have time to reassess races accurately and the track often hovers between ratings.
In a recent interview with PPM, bookmaker Graeme Sampieri stated punters should only wager on either good or heavy tracks, as anything in between can be a nightmare. Is the recently revamped track rating system accurate in terms of correct assessment for these “in between” ratings?
DL: I tend to agree with Graeme’s line of thinking, a definite rating is a preferred track condition to bet on. The in-between ratings and the numerical system are a good idea if they are rated accurately. I struggle with the racing clubs and the way they rate their tracks. A more professional approach by officials needs to be employed to ensure that the variations in certain tracks are accurately reflected by the new rating system.
The wealth of information and tools at the modern punters disposal ensures winners come more frequently to the smart operator, than their counterparts from decades ago. In terms of acquiring value, however, is the modern punter a victim of his own success? Is value harder to find today as opposed to yesteryear?
DL: Value is very hard to find in modern racing. I have been punting for over 20 years and, in the past five years, most good judges land on the same horse in a race, thus removing the value. I have also noticed that the first favourite on a Saturday city meeting starts way under the odds. It seems as though the rank and file punters launch into the first favourite to kick start their day. Not many horses have the formcard deserving odds-on status in a race, yet someone is backing them to make them odds-on on the totes.
One of the most contentious issues in racing in recent years is the advent of betting exchanges. Many punters are gravitating to these exchanges because of minimal percentage take as opposed to the mainstream TABs. What is your slant on the issue of exchanges and their impact on the racing industry?
DL: I think that exchanges have created competition, which is good in any industry. TABs have reacted by having “power-pays” meetings and now “fat quaddies”, so that is stimulating interest and turnover. As long as exchanges contribute to the industry and don’t just bleed the punters (even with a reduced take-out), I think they add something to modern punting.
Many punters will not place bets until visual examination of their selection in the pre-race mounting parade. Are you an adherent of this practice? How important is it for the punter to try to access a horse’s pre-race looks and demeanor?
DL: If you are on-course it is a must. I am reluctant to back a horse first-up from a spell unless I have seen it, which includes assessing its fitness off vision from TVN or Sky Channel. I think it is important to take notice of horses that often behave badly pre-race yet perform well. Horses are individuals and you need to keep some record of their idiosyncrasies.
From a pure mathematical perspective, it is said you should never back each way as it diminishes the value of your selection. Alternatively, you “save” on the assessed dangers by Dutch or multi win betting several runners. What are your thoughts on this point?
DL: I tend to back multiple runners in a race for the win, but it is really a personal preference. I know of many successful punters that bet each way, or back horses at good odds to win and just break square if that horse places. I believe that staking your betting is the most important thing and always give yourself a chance of winning by betting for value, never settle for under the odds that you consider a horse should be.
Many believe some races are won or lost at the barrier draw. How much emphasis do you place on barriers when doing form?
DL: I place a large emphasis on barrier draws. I am a great believer in doing speed maps, which then helps you assess where the pressure is going to be applied from in a race. Barrier one is not always the best gate in a race and conversely barrier 16 isn’t a curse to certain horses if the race pace suits them.
I have noted a developing trend in recent years, where many form analysts, particularly in racing the issue of weights, is racing’s most overrated commodity. The point being, which is backed by strong statistical evidence, that weight does not stop good horses winning. Also, frugal weight where horses have a 1 or 2kg turnaround on rivals, will in most cases not constitute a reversal of placings. Where does weight handicapping sit on your pecking order or form factors?
DL: I am not as big an advocate of studying weights as I once would have been. I think that, with the compression of weight scales, movements in weights are not significant enough to stop an in-form horse, also the removal of 1-1.5kg is not enough to turn a horses form around. The grades, in general, are so even that you only see a 4-5kg spread from top to bottom, and that includes allowances for gender and age.
When I first started doing the form, the minimums were often 49-50kg and the top weights had 59-60kg, that’s when it was significant. Also, with horses receiving a numerical rating for each performance from the handicapper, it is rare for a performance to sneak through the system and get under the guard of the handicapper.
The class systems direct a horse a certain way and, if trainers choose to skip classes, their horse will receive less weight but they will be aware of the class rise their horse faces. It would have to be a significant weight reversal i.e. 3.5kg + for a short margin before I would consider it an influencing factor.
From a punter’s perspective, what industry changes would you like to see over the coming years that would be beneficial to the average horse player?
DL: I think the combining of pools is paramount for the future, betting into a larger pool just may create the value the regular horse player needs. I would like to see the occasional guaranteed pools for quaddies and first fours, I think that would generate their own revenue and prove a bonanza for punters and also the TAB’s.
Your selections carry enormous sums of money wagered on weekends from a vast national following, do you feel more pressure now to get it right than when you started in the media?
DL: There’s no doubt about that, I am very aware of the following my selections have so I need to be well prepared for every race. My objective is to try and give the punters something that doesn’t obviously appear in their formguide. I’m not trying to tell them what to back in a race; rather I prefer to think that I assist with rounding off their thoughts on a race.
The modern day punters are well informed and, if I can give them that 1 per cent of information that they didn’t have, I think I’m doing my job. My research for a Saturday meeting starts when the weights are declared; I watch videos of all runners at a meeting and also do speed maps once acceptances are declared. It is an inexact science and I’m sure punters are aware of that, but I am confident enough in my preparation and understanding of horses that I can give them some useful information.
Deane Lester can be heard on a weekly basis on radio Sport 927, 2KY, Radio Tab in Queensland, Racing Radio in WA and trackside radio in New Zealand.
By Ken Blake
PRACTICAL PUNTING – JUNE 2007